Amateur Bird Photography Using the Canon 40D

Canon 40D

Not everyone can afford a Nikon 600mm f/4 VR lens ($9400) or Canon 600mm f/4.0L IS lens ($7600) to use when photographing wildlife but getting close is essential for capturing that one great shot. If you’re a Canon shooter like me, there are other ways to get “reasonably” close to the action without spending a fortune for equipment.

You could rent one of these babies at a pretty reasonable rate from your local camera shop (if you live close to a “major” city) or from one of many online rental outfits. Or you could do what I decided to do and buy a more reasonably priced Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM zoom lens ($600) and a Canon EF 1.4x II Extender ($290) and use these on your Canon 40D with it’s 1.6 FOVCF (Field of View Crop Factor) and get an equivalent focal length of 448mm! Not a bad way for a serious amateur to go for under $1000 bucks

Take this
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L Lens

Plus this
Canon EF 1.4X Extender

To get this!
Bird Photography Using the Canon 40D

Look at the Detail
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon 40D , 70-200mm f/4L with a 1.4x extender at 250mm, f/5.6, 1/250th sec at ISO 100 on SanDisk digital film.

All lens images courtesy and copyright © Canon.

8 thoughts on “Amateur Bird Photography Using the Canon 40D

  1. Jeff, man i do thank you for your awesome and prompt information!!!
    I’m in nuclear cardiology, and fly Aerobatic RC model Giant scale competions as well. Airshows are a true passion, however birds of prey are just plain fascinating! Zero photography expereince though!
    If possible i’d like to call you some time,need a phone number, and also keep up the great work, and beautiful photos.
    I’m considering a wide angle as well, it’s a thrill to see some of the wide angle stuff the pros do.Looks like the “L” series line is a “cut” above the general use.
    Hopefully the 40d was a wise investment, i considered the 50d, however for the money , and for $1000, i thought the 40D was the best idea, and spend the money on the lens, by the way i also bought the 35 to 105mm usm IS lens as well.
    I’ve ordered a Tamrac velocity 9 bag to carry the stuff around while birding.. also have a very sturdy bogen tripod.
    Question for you, are lens filters etc suggested to go over the end of the 100-400mm. UV etc??
    Again, thks, i’ll try not to bug you too much, but you’re a wealth of info.. “The wise man listens to the man that has already crossed the mine field!! 🙂 🙂

    • No problem Don! Send me an email via the “Contact Me” page on my blog and I’ll reply back directly.

      I rarely use a filter on a long lens like the EF 100-400mm. The lens hood provides excellent protection for the front lens element and a circular polarizer isn’t really needed for air shows or wildlife work. Landscape work is entirely different and I’ll often use a circular polarizer, neutral density or neutral density graduated filter depending upon the effect I’m looking for.


  2. Good Evening, i just purchased a cannon 40d, and a 100mm-400mm usm IS “L” lens. I’d like to get started on birds, and airshows, any wisdom, man you pictures are awesome. Thks don
    Do some folks also use the 1.4 extender on my lens as well? Of course with a tripod i suppose.

    • Don,

      Thanks for reading and for your kind words. Let’s see if I can answer a few of your questions.

      1) Yes, adding the EF 1.4x Extender to the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM can be done but you sacrifice one stop in aperture and the combination will not auto focus on a 40D body.

      2) The best way to get started shooting birds with your zoom is fairly simple. For stationary birds shoot wide open (f/5.6) in aperture mode with “IS” set to mode 1. Use the center AF point only and set the camera to high speed burst mode / “One Shot”. Focus on the bird’s eye and take a burst of three – six shots. One or two should be in perfect focus. I’ve posted several articles on this technique with lots of sample images.

      3) For birds in flight the setup is a little different. Shoot in shutter priority (Tv) mode and set your shutter speed to 1/500th or greater until your aperture shows wide open (f/5.6). Use the center AF point and the set the auto focus to “AI Servo” and your lens’s IS to mode 2 (panning). When you see a bird in flight try to keep the center AF point on the bird’s breast. Take a burst of six to ten shots in high speed burst mode and one or two should be sharp. I’ve also written several posts on this as well.

      4) Practice. Visit Moose Peterson’s blog, Arthur Morris’ blog. Did I say practice?

      5) Enjoy your new hobby!


  3. Pingback: Renting Lenses for the Canon 40D « Serious(ly) Amateur Photography

  4. @David – Thanks for reading my blog and for the compliment. The 70-200mm is a great lens but I’ve had some trouble with the autofocus when my 40D is set to “AI Servo”. It can’t quite get the correct focus when I’m panning on a flying bird most times. I’m not sure if this is me, the 40D or the lens.

    @Mark – Adorama and B&H sell the 1.4x or 2x Extender for about $290. I recommend the 1.4x since the 2x loses 2 stops which may prevent the 70-200mm’s autofocus from working correctly.

  5. I have one of those 70-200 f/4L lenses, too. It’s an awesome lens, the only bad thing about it is that the fast and quiet autofocus on it have absolutely spoiled me for every other lens I own.

    I’ve enjoyed the photos you’ve been posting — looking forward to more!

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